When ICs replaced vacuum tubes and CRTs were replaced with flat LCD screens, test engineers probably thought that working with high voltage was a thing of the past. Well, guess what? It’s back!
Designers in fields as diverse as semiconductor manufacturing, gas analysis for mining applications, defibrillators, solar energy, and EVs are all looking for switching modules with higher stand-off and switching voltage characteristics. As always, one size rarely fits all, and there are some essential considerations that users should be aware of when specifying a switching module for high voltage tests. So, let’s look at some areas of concern.
The configurations of switching modules are much the same as switching for lower voltage applications- uncommitted switches, fault insertion, multiplexers, and matrices. There are also reed relay and EMR (electromechanical relay) solutions. The most apparent difference is switching density. Because of voltage standoff issues, relays are spaced much farther apart. For example, a single-slot PXI module switching up to 9 kV may have a maximum of 14 relays fitted.
Fig.1 - High voltage PXI module
Expanding a switch design to use multiple slots can, of course, expand the configurations. But when you consider that a single-slot PXI module can hold up to 528 low voltage relays, the limitation becomes very clear. Other modular formats such as LXI can give your test system more real estate to work with, but the density will still be less when compared to low voltage applications.
Hot or Cold Switching
Reed relays generally have a higher carry current (cold switching) rating than their ‘hot’ switching current rating. Looking at figure 3, contact damage occurs during hot switching, caused by the resulting arc across the contacts as they open or close. A severe current overload will quickly melt the contact area causing the two surfaces to fuse, creating a hard weld as soon as the contact closes.
Like the selection of any other switching system, your engineering test specification will dictate the switching system. Careful analysis of the datasheets of your switching system of choice is essential to study before making a purchase.
Specifications to pay close attention to include:
Fig.3 - Damaged relay contacts due to excessive
hot switching or exceeding relay specifications
Now you are armed with enough knowledge to select your switching system. In my next post, we will talk about fixturing and cabling and the pitfalls that lay ahead. And remember... Don't touch that bare wire!
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